Decades of research has linked our mental health with physical health. Professionals in this field have developed tools for assessing and improving our mind-body connection. Our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can affect our biological functioning, and what we do with our physical bodies can affect our mental state. Researchers have gathered ample data that indicates a constant communication between our bodies and minds.
Making the connection
Health workers explore how a person’s state of mind affects their body and find ways to improve physical health by changing thinking patterns (e.g., we are all aware of the detrimental effects of stress on our body). This may involve changing unhealthy and unhelpful lifestyles, improving social networks, and our attitude/perception towards ourselves and others. When assessing an individual, a counsellor or a mental health professional may look at all factors that may be contributing to an illness or distress, then devises a plan for change. Factors that may be affecting a person’s quality of life can be damaging behaviour, such as smoking, poor diet or sleeplessness. A counsellor will then encourage a change of behaviour such as exercising, a healthy diet, health checks and a good sleeping pattern.
What is a Biopsychosocial Model?
This model is used by almost all mental health professionals. It evaluates three aspects that mesh-like a honeycomb in a person’s life. Biological – is the impact of physical traits; Psychological – thought patterns and attitudes; Social – is the influence of people and events on us. Researchers have recognised that these three forces have a negative or a positive influence on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Forces that play against our health:
- Biological: A genetic predisposition to illness, smoking, poor diet, excessive alcohol, and drug consumption.
- Psychological: Stress, depression, anxiety, poor coping strategies and defence mechanisms. Being pessimistic, paranoid, and having an aggressive attitude.
- Social: loneliness, exposure to violence, abuse, and trauma. Living conditions such as poverty can also cause social distress.
Forces that improve our health:
- Biological: Exercising, healthy diet, self-care, managing any genetic predispositions and a life free of addictions.
- Psychological: Stress management, anger management, resilience and developing happy, healthy relationships with friends and family.
- Social: Support from friends, family, and communities. Having access to medical care and education.
Its very easy to steer away from the right path and we often find ourselves indulging in unhealthy activities and feeling stressed. This is the time to speak to a registered counsellor at Halcyon Counselling Clinic and work towards a healthier life.
Managing health conditions
Certain health conditions that require hospitalization can have severe effects on our mental wellbeing such as cancer or overdose – drug addictions. In this instance, counsellors assess a person’s life and find out what aspects of life can be improved which in turn, may facilitate his/her ability to cope mentally with physical pain or discomfort and potentially life changing impact of their condition.
Counsellors work with people to build and maintain their self-esteem and motivation and encourage them to adopt a positive way of thinking. The most important part of recovery is rallying the support of friends and family and other health professionals in this part of the journey – more like a holistic approach. On the physical side, the client may be advised to implement relaxing therapies such as meditation, expressive arts, yoga, or acupuncture to promote a sense of calmness.
What can you do at home to assess your health?
When assessing your health, ask yourself a few questions, related to psychological and emotional wellbeing, to understand your state of mind.
Psychological health questions can include questions regarding mood (how has your mood been recently?), positive relationships (do you have a support system you can rely on?), cognitive functions (are you able to think and process information?).
Emotional wellbeing can be assessed by examining anxiety levels (do you feel anxious? If you do, how often do you feel it?), depression (are you finding it difficult to enjoy small things in life, which you previously enjoyed?), and control (are you able to control your feelings? Or do you feel like you have no control over anything in your life?)
How mental stress affects our body?
As previously mentioned, stress is a way of alerting people to danger, putting their bodies into fight or flight mode. The brain produces chemicals that trigger changes throughout the body. I am using stress as an example to explain how a mental health condition affects our physical wellbeing. Similarly, most mental distresses has an effect, directly or indirectly on our physical health and vice versa.
- Nervous system: headaches, nervousness, irritability, and sensitivity.
- Respiratory system: Rapid, shallow breathing.
- Musculoskeletal system: Muscle aches especially in the neck and shoulders.
- Cardiovascular system: High blood pressure and increased heart rate.
- Gastrointestinal system: Nausea, stomach pain, heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea.
- Reproductive system: irregular periods and reduced libido.